Single mum told it’s Stoke or nothing by Waltham Forest Council

Another family has been told by Waltham Forest Council to abruptly move to Stoke-on-Trent, the second in less than a month.

Nadia Zamin, a 38-year-old single mother and lifelong borough resident, was yesterday told to move her three children to the West Midlands city, more than 150 miles away, in just two days, without seeing the property first.

It comes after Monica, Luis and their three children were told to move by the council to Stoke-on-Trent at the end of June and are facing eviction because they failed to do so.

Both Monica and Nadia say that, with a little more time, they would be able to secure enough money to stay in the borough, as Luis has been offered a job in London and Nadia, presently living in temporary accommodation in Leyton, will be able to get part-time work once her youngest child enters school in September.

However, the council’s cabinet member for housing, Louise Mitchell, said the council had “a duty to make sure council taxpayers’ money is being used in a sustainable and reasonable way” and that the benefit cap makes it difficult to find homes locally that homeless residents can afford.

Nadia said: “I have never been out of London before. I don’t know where Stoke-on-Trent is, I don’t know anyone there.

“I have got my family and friends here and my children’s schools. It’s heartbreaking. All my stuff is in storage, how am I supposed to take everything that day?

“If I go look for a job [in Stoke], who will look after my kids? Here my mum can pick them up from school but who will do it up there?

“I had a meeting with Cllr Mitchell and I did explain to them I will be able to look for a job when [my] son goes into reception in September, it’s only one month more.

“Whoever decided this, it’s a very shameful act. At the end of the day, they have decided to chuck me out of London.”

She informed the Local Democracy Reporting Service on Friday that the council has since confirmed Sunday will be her last night in her current temporary accommodation if she does not accept the Stoke property.

However, Peter O’Kane of the London Renters’ Union insists the council has not yet exhausted its options to keep her in the city, arguing it could use the discretionary housing benefit fund councils are given by the government to top up her housing benefit.

Peter said: “This is money from the government that has to be spent on topping up housing benefits. It’s effectively to enable people to get into private-rented accommodation.

“One of the biggest problems Nadia has is that the benefit cap means the maximum she will get for housing costs in her benefits is around £173 a week, which is nowhere near enough to pay for what it would cost [to rent privately] in Waltham Forest.”

However, if Nadia was able to secure a part-time job working at least 16 hours a week, as she says she will be able to do in September, she would no longer have a cap on her benefits.

Peter added: “One of the categories the fund can be used for is to help with short-term rental costs while the claimant seeks employment […] that’s what Nadia’s asking for.

“We are not asking for a council house, we are asking for a small amount of money, she estimates a few thousands of pounds.

“Nadia’s work experience, including in Walthamstow Market, means all her contacts are local. Dumped in Stoke, without contacts or somebody to look after kids while she’s at work, means her chances of finding employment will be nil.”

When contacted for comment, Cllr Mitchell said the council’s “preference is to house every household locally” but that demand “far outstrips supply”.

She said: “We regret that it is not always possible to place people in the borough.

“Alongside our duty to offer accommodation to those in need, we also have a duty to make sure council taxpayers’ money is being used in a sustainable and reasonable way and that we can continue to provide the essential day-to-day services on which all our residents rely.

“We must take into account the government’s benefits cap policy when we make any offer of accommodation and we must consider the financial circumstances of each household to ensure the offer is affordable and sustainable for them.

“The freeze on the rent that can be paid under the Local Housing Allowance makes it very challenging to find affordable accommodation in London.

“We cannot comment in more detail on individual cases.”

A few weeks ago, the council apologised to Nadia and her family after trying to house them in one room of an Ilford house that had dead mice in the kitchen.

Nadia added that she plans to run for local councillor in High Street ward next year, representing the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), in an effort to stop anyone else going through an ordeal like hers.

A protest for Nadia and her family will be held in Abbas Park this Sunday, July 25, at 6pm.

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Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter